I wandered off topic a little in a conversation with AndyW over in the 'Favorite non-gypsy jazz artists' thread and AndyW suggested maybe we need to start a new conversation about the Portuguese Guitar so here goes; I am not sure how many on here are fans or even if it fits in a Gypsy Jazz environment but I will justify my interest by saying it is just another European variant on the migration of the guitar and related instruments from the east, although even that is not quite true.
The Portuguese Guitar looks at first glance like a large mandolin and has twelve strings, the lower six tuned in octaves, the three higher pairs in unison. It has been suggested that it developed not from any connection with neighboring Spain but from the cittern introduced from England by wine traders, but whatever it soon found its own voice. To confuse further, there are slight differences between the Lisboa and the Coimbra guitars. Portugal has historically been less of a western part of Spain than an outward looking nation of explorers with cultural links to colonies around the world since the late 15th and 16th centuries, the great days of explorers De Gama and Magellan.
Enough history. So how did I come across this funny foreign banjo ?
Living in England one can easily get tired of the weather, cold and damp much of the year, and since the advent of cheap flights in the late '60s it became easy to head for sunnier corners of Europe only a couple of hours away, and while Spain and Greece certainly had their charms for some reason I always felt at home in Portugal. If it was just a week or two on a sunny beach we were after we headed south to Faro airport and drove a rented car along the coast to a rented villa with a nice garden and a pool, or a beachside apartment. If it is history and culture you seek head for Lisbon or other points north; Sintra, Coimbra, Porto etc ( I never got as far as the latter). On one such trip in the mid-seventies a group of us were staying at a huge whitewashed villa in a secluded valley to the west of Armação de Pêra on the south coast and the next town west of there is Porches. Quite by chance a few of us who were in the habit of exploring for new restaurants to try came across a big old barn like restaurant, all whitewash and timber beams, called 'Porches Velho' and decided to give it a try. Great place, and great food but the surprise to me was there was a cabaret, if you can call it that, consisting of the couple I took to be the owners of the place, taking turns to sing, accompanied by two guitarists, one with a regular Spanish guitar, the other with this odd 'mandolin-on-steroids'.
This was my first taste of Fado. I loved it. I also bought the cassette tape they hawked around the tables after, still have it and have transferred it to mp3.
A few days later someone noticed and ad for a Beer Festival at nearby Silves castle so off we went for another afternoon's fun. The ancient castle stands atop a quaint village in the hills a few miles north of Portimão and what passed for a 'Beer Festival' was actually a huge outdoor party with local folk music and dancing, huge steaks on the BBQ and a couple of cold beers thrown in. But the star attraction topping the bill was Rodrigo one of the top Fado singers of the time, again accompanied by the two types of guitar, Spanish and Portuguese.
Anyway, by now and through the following years I sought out whatever I could find whenever I could get to Portugal. The small bars and Fado houses around the Alfama district of Lisbon were always worth a visit. I picked up a bit of the history and found recordings by Amália Rodrigues regarded as the greatest of all Fado singers. I even found a Portuguese restaurant in Beauchamp Place, London, just around the corner from Harrods which also had live Fado music.
In all that time I always struggled to understand the language, reading and writing is not so bad for anyone familiar with other Latin based words but the pronunciation makes it difficult to understand. I think I probably learned more from the Brazilian singers like Astrud Gilberto, their pronunciation is softer and clearer. Anyway, even if Fado singing is not your thing there have also been many great Guitarra Portuguesa soloists. Soloists on CD for a good introduction to the style include Carlos Paredes, Custodio Castelo, Armenio de Melo and Jorge Fontes
Fast forward fifteen years or so and here is the real Gypsy Jazz connection.
Fapy Lafertin included a couple of examples of the Portuguese Guitar on his 'Fleur de Lavande' CD from 1991, the notes accompanying it say he taught himself the instrument, never having even been to Portugal (at that time at least). This was followed by occasional tracks on later CDs.
I first saw Fapy play in London at the Jacksons Lane Theatre in Highgate in about '94 and sure enough he brought his Portuguese guitar along for a couple of tunes. And now a brief, amusing tale:
A couple of years later he played the same venue but by the time the band stopped for a break I had seen no sign of the Portuguese guitar so I approached the band who were at the bar. Embarrassingly because he did not speak on stage I had thought Fapy knew little or no English so I just asked Dave Kelbie if Fapy was going to be playing any of the Portuguese tunes that night, and Fapy hearing what I had asked explained in perfect English that no, he "had not brought it on the tour this time" but thanked me for my interest.
So anyway, sorry to ramble on a bit, but if it is good enough for Fapy, it is good enough for all of us.
In that other thread AndyW mentioned Carminho and although familiar with Ana Moura and Mariza I had not kept up to date with the younger Portuguese stars so looked her up. The first song of hers I found searching Youtube featured a blistering solo by the great Luis Guerreiro on Portuguese Guitar.
Another great example of Luis's playing here:
So if any of that has aroused any curiosity there are many more delights to be found out there......